"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1976 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Letter From The Editor 101
Glimpse Into Heaven 101
True Liberty 104
The Spirit And The Dry Bones 107
Purpose And Pattern (1) 111
Incorruptible Characteristics Of The Life Of The Lord Jesus 113
Mediocrity 116
"The Flesh Is Of No Avail" 118
Inspired Parentheses (4) ibc



WITH this issue we complete five years of the sending out of the magazine in this form and with this title of TOWARD THE MARK. My heart is full of gratitude to God for His wonderful loving kindness and help through these years. To Him be all the glory! I know, however, that I express my readers' feelings as well as my own when we give thanks to God for those whose messages have provided the spiritual food which it has been my privilege, as Editor, to make available to hungry saints all over the world.

At the same time I must express my very warm thanks to all our readers. I want to thank those who have written letters of appreciation, letters which are so greatly valued but so seldom answered. Then I want to thank the many generous friends who have ministered to financial needs, and particularly so, as they have been kind enough to forego receipts in order to reduce our heavy expenditure on postage. Although you have no personal thanks from me, I pray that our Heavenly Father may reward you with the joy of His own approval. There are readers in some lands who are unable to send any money out of their countries. That these have been able to receive their copies just the same is due to the measure of your generous gifts. They -- and we - -thank you in His name.

And what shall I say of the very many who remember us in their prayers? There are no words with which to express our profound indebtedness for your support in prayer. It is a humbling as well as an inspiring experience to know oneself the centre of such loving and faithful prayer. We must wait until eternity until we are fully aware of how much we owe to the prayers of others. Maybe then we shall also have some opportunity to thank those who have so sustained us and ministered to us by means of the Throne of Grace. If so, then I rather feel that it will take me a few hundred years just to express my personal thanks to so many dear prayer partners. May I make a start right now by saying a big 'Thank You' to you all?

After much exercise about a suitable text for the back cover of the next volume, I feel that I have been led to Psalm 126:5: "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy". It is made clear in this psalm that while reaping is an exhilarating experience, the real and costly contribution is that of sowing. Everybody is thrilled when the sheaves are being gathered in, but in some cases God's people are tempted to give up because they see no signs of a harvest. The Lord here stresses that the matter of supreme importance is to sow. It may be with weeping; it is always an action which offers no quick or immediate results.

The Lord Jesus sowed. He not only sowed the seed but He sowed Himself. That is what we all find so costly. So while it may be in order to ask: 'Where are the reapers?', a more pertinent question is often: 'Where are those who are willing to sow, even with tears?' May the Lord encourage us to go on sowing, even though it be with suffering. If we do, we shall doubtless come again with rejoicing -- in eternity if not in time.

With loving wishes and earnest prayers,
Yours very sincerely in Christ,



J. Alec Motyer

Reading: Revelation 4:1 - 5:6

IT'S lovely to be in the know! We go on holiday every year to a small village in Devon. On our way up to the village shops there is a house which has always intrigued us because it looks like one of those houses that has grown by chance rather than been planned by an architect. The result is that the outside of the house gives no clue as to what the inside is going to be like. We often tried to fathom out what it would look like inside, for the window pattern on the outside is so curious that at times you seem to be looking into a corridor rather than a room. No doubt we were too inquisitive, but we just longed to know what it was like. Imagine, [101/102] then, our pleasure when we were invited there to coffee and knew that we would have the opportunity to indulge our inquisitive instincts. And, as you may expect, the explanation of its outside appearance was fully explained once we had gone in to see for ourselves. Everything became clear to us when we were able to get inside.

You have to be let in behind the scenes in order to know and understand. This was precisely what happened to John -- he was taken behind the scenes. A voice told him to come up through the open door and so he was able to see for himself. Suddenly all the outward appearance of things yielded to reality. When that front door opened in Devon and we got into the house which we could not explain from the outside, we saw things as they were. John was let in; he saw the reality behind the appearance, saw things as they were, and so discovered the explanation of all things. What did he see?

"... Behold, there was a throne ..."

The inner reality was a throne. As soon as John got behind earthly appearances and was admitted into the heavenly place, the one dominating feature which struck and held his gaze was the reality of the throne (4:2). What is more, it immediately became apparent to him that this was no empty throne, for he tells us that there was "one sitting upon the throne". This was no vacant throne waiting for an occupant, nor was it a throne which had once had an occupant who had now abdicated and abandoned it. Thank God that there is a throne, but the central idea of heavenly reality which gives explanation to all that is seen here on earth is more than the bare idea of government. There is God who sits on the throne. We used to sing a little jingle which would never be given a prize for its poetry but which should always have a place in our doctrine:

God is still on the throne,

And He will remember His own;

Though trials may press us and burdens distress us,

He never will leave us alone.

God is still on the throne,

And He will remember His own;

His promise is true. He will not forget you.

God is still on the throne.

Beloved friends, I am not asking you to accept that this world looks like that. I am not calling you to agree that living in this world feels like that. The look of things and the feel of things do not necessarily represent the reality of things. The look of our friends' house gave us no clue as to the reality which was on the inside. What I ask is that you believe that the reality of things is that our God is on His heavenly throne. I beseech you that when you listen to news on the radio or T.V., every item of news which comes over will provoke from you the reaction: 'Nevertheless God is still on the throne'.

Look at this throne with me, please. Let us gather the various references in the passage that we may see more clearly the sort of throne and the sort of Occupant who is the essence of John's revelation to us.

"... there was a rainbow round about the throne ..."

"He that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon" (v.3). Naturally when John became aware of the throne, his eyes were fixed upon the Occupant, but all he could see was a brightness of light which yielded no form. It is the invisible God in all His glory who is the Occupant of this throne, and so nothing could be seen but the intense brightness of light. As that central brightness shone out, however, it crystallised into a radiance right around the throne itself. This radiance, the outward shining of the central glory, was the radiance of a rainbow.

In the time of Noah the wrath of God was declared against the sin of man. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth ... and it repented the Lord that he had made man ... and the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the ground. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:5-8). Noah found grace. This is a perfectly adequate translation, and please do not feel that I want to change it, but may I suggest that if you want to know just what those three words really mean, you should read them backwards thus: 'Grace found Noah!' Noah was a sinner like all the others; he was under the wrath of God with all the rest, but sovereign grace reached out and said: 'No. Wrath will not prevail in his case; grace will prevail.' So God sheltered Noah in an ark while the rain of His [102/103] wrath fell upon the face of the earth. Noah passed through the judgment. He was not excused it, but passed through the wrath of God into salvation. Then there came a day when God said to him: 'Look Noah! I have hung my bow up. See it there. That is My great war-bow. There has been war between Me and mankind, but now there is peace. I have hung up My bow, for I have no further use for it. I have put it away, and every time I look upon that bow which I have hung up as something not to be used any more, I will remember that I have pledged Myself never again to flood the earth in My wrath. The war is over: peace reigns. "And there was a rainbow round about the throne." So the first thing that we discover about this throne is that it is a throne of grace where sinners find peace with God.

"... lightnings and voices and thunders ..."

"And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders" (v.5). We move on in the story of the Old Testament and come to Israel in Egypt. With them God's great redemption takes a significant step forward as these people come out of Egypt, redeemed by the blood of the lamb. They come out with an identical testimony to that which you and I have concerning the blood of Jesus. Blood prevailed over wrath. God said: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Exodus 12:13). There is something effective in that blood which can remove the wrath of God. God brings His people out of the land of Egypt and brings them by a direct route to Sinai, for He had said to Moses: "This shall be the token upon thee ... when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain." So at this appointed destination of the redeemed in Mount Sinai, God comes down in thunders and lightnings and a voice. He has not changed from being the God of grace who redeems His people, but He wishes to declare to us that the God of all grace is also the God who imposes His law upon the redeemed, so He backs up His law with all His majesty -- lightnings and voices and thunders. The redeemed must learn the dignity of God's holy law, so John not only sees the throne of grace with the gracious radiance of the rainbow, but finds that lightnings, voices and thunders proceed from the throne because the God who sits there is the Lord who wills to have His people live in His way, and still looks for obedience from them. It is marvellous to be able to rejoice that our enthroned God is the God of grace, but we need to remember, my beloved, that He is also the God of holy law.

Jeremiah, in a very sad passage made familiar to us because Jesus took it up also, used the expression 'den of robbers' in connection with men who tried to abuse the grace of God: "My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers" (Matthew 21:13). If we consider this we will realise that the robbers den is not the place where they execute their thieving activities so much as the refuge into which they flee after committing robberies, and a kind of base from which they again sally forth to rob once again. For the robber, his den is a place into which he goes to be safe and from which he emerges every bit as much a robber as when he went in. It is a place of safety devoid of moral transformation. There were people in Jeremiah's day who wanted to live on terms of grace, yes, they wanted to have a place in the house of God, but they did not want any sort of moral transformation. They wanted to be safe with God, but they did not want to grow in holiness, they did not want to hear the law of God nor to recognise those demands of God which produce changed lives. So they wanted to use God's house as a den of robbers; God, however, is still the God of the lightnings, thunders and voices.

And what about us? No doubt we spend some time each day with our Bibles. Is it possible that even our Bibles can be made into such a den for us? Is it possible that we turn to God's Word because it is nice and gives us a warm feeling of comfort, and yet do not allow it to bring any real change into our lives? We may feel proud of the fact that not a Sunday passes but we are found in God's house in the fellowship of His people, but we do well to beware lest we too make a kind of 'den of robbers' of the house of prayer. Yes, we have rejoiced in the message of grace; yes, we love the fellowship of God's redeemed people; but No! no change has taken place in us, for we are left no different from what we were before.

"... a book ... with seven seals ..."

A further reference to this throne in heaven tells us of God's book. "I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals" (5:1). John is, of course, talking of a scroll, a scroll which has writing on both sides. As we [103/104] go on in the book of Revelation we learn that the significance of this scroll is that it is the sealed book which contains all the details of the divine government of the world. This merits our close attention. There in the hand of the Occupant of the throne is an account of everything that shall yet be in the unfolding history of the world. It has all been written beforehand by God Himself. He has written it, He holds it in His hand, and its fulfilment will be dependent upon the Lamb's breaking of the seals.

Let this be our encouragement. Things may take us by surprise this week because to us the future is impenetrable. We do not know what this month, or even this day will bring forth. But it is all written in heaven. What is yet to be unrolled down here upon earth has first been signed and sealed in heaven. What a comfort this can be for God's people! He is never taken by surprise. Nothing untoward ever happens so far as He is concerned. If this week should bring some sort of calamity or even tragedy into your home, do you think that you are not in your Father's hand when that blow strikes? Do you think that the Great Shepherd has suddenly deserted the flock, that the Father has abandoned the family, or that the all sovereign God has stepped down from the throne? It cannot be! All has already been settled in heaven. Let Psalm 119 reinforce John's vision of the throne: "For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They abide this day according to thine ordinances; for all things are thy servants" (Psalm 119:89-91).

"... in the midst of the throne ... a Lamb ..."

John was much perturbed because the sealed book could not be opened. No one was found worthy to do this. One of the elders, however, came to him in a brotherly way, saying: 'Don't weep. Dry your tears. All is settled. The Lion has done it.' John looked to see who was this "Lion of the tribe of Judah" who had prevailed to open the book and loose the seals, and he tells us: "I saw in the midst of the throne ... a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth" (5:6). The Lion who is a Lamb! Oh yes, He is a Lion in all His dignity and in all His ferocity. In the words of C. S. Lewis, 'He is not a tame lion, you know; he is a wild one'. Our Lord Jesus is no tame lion; He cannot be contained by any artifice of man. He is the sovereign God in all His majesty. But look, beloved, look Christian -- to you the Lion is the Lamb. He is discovered as 'standing', because He is alive for evermore. He is 'as though He had been slain', because Calvary goes on in its efficacy. He died once for all, and the moment of crucifixion will never come again, but the efficacy of the cross is eternally valid upon the throne of God.

In the throne there is One who bears the lasting scars of that precious blood shedding. For us, therefore, the throne is no longer shrouded in impenetrable and dazzling light; the figure upon the throne has a face and a form; grace has a shape and a Person. For us the terms of the inflexible law are kindly expressed and the government is in nail-pierced hands. The God on the throne is the Christ of Calvary. What greater reality can there be for us than that behind the scenes of this troubled world of ours there is a high and glorious throne, and that the Occupant of this universal and eternal throne is our loving Saviour?



Poul Madsen

"The liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21)

THIS verse quickens our imagination as we wonder what the apostle can mean when he speaks of: "the liberty the children of God will have in the glory" (Danish version). It is an expression of immense content, which meant so much to Paul that he did not reckon the sufferings of this present time worthy to be compared with it. [104/105]

But an expression which stirs our imagination contains a danger of arousing it to such an extent that the whole thing runs away with us. Few things interest people as much as the future life, and few things are so likely to lead to wishful thinking and fanciful imagination. All religions offer their prospects of a future life of one kind or another, and we can easily be influenced by dreamy imaginations, especially if we are romantic and religious by nature.

"... we shall be like Him ..."

While Paul speaks of the liberty which the children of God will have in the glory, John tells us that although it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, we know that when He is manifested we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). They are obviously occupied with the same wonderful reality, for to be perfectly free is to be like Him.

Perfect liberty consists in unbroken fellowship with the Father. The Son manifested this as He walked down here on earth among men who were not free. He promised His disciples that He would lead them into the enjoyment of this same perfect liberty. However much of this we may experience now, the fact is that we have to wait until we see Him as He is before we are perfectly like Him. When the Lord returns, then everyone who belongs to Him will know perfect liberty, and experience unbroken and unlimited fellowship with the Father.

We are told that we shall see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). But whom shall we see face to face? Him! And since all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him, this means that we shall no longer know only in part, but fully understand. Our partial restraint and limited freedom down here is due, among other things, to the fact that we only know in part, only see through a glass darkly, and sometimes even misunderstand. Confusion and muddled-headedness restrict freedom, but when we know the full truth in all its clarity and completeness, then we can experience the genuine liberty which the children of God will have in glory.

To see Him face to face does not only mean that our eyes will be able to behold Him and our minds be enlightened by perfect knowledge and liberating harmony, but also that we shall live in the immediate and unlimited experience of His love. Down here we can only partly experience that love, for the imperfection of our beings makes the full and continual enjoyment of His love impossible. When we see Him, however, all the imperfections and limitations of our natures will be overcome, so that without any kind of restraint we shall be enabled to live in love as love is. We shall live in God who is love. When, in our beings, there is no longer any division between the willing and the doing, between ideal and reality, then we who are the sons of God will be able to experience God as He really is, that is to say, to live in a never- ending enjoyment of His love and light.

As this becomes true we shall also be enabled to live in full consecration to God, wanting only what He wants and feeling delight in so wanting. So shall we continually rejoice in God and worship Him with all our heart. It is a fact that our bodies will then have been changed into the likeness of the body of His glory, but this only has significance when we remember that it is within that we shall have become like Him, as John tells us. Then the outer and the inner man will correspond to each other. Man will then have become complete man in the full content of that word.

"... a man in Christ ..."

When I venture to speak of a being becoming a complete man, I wish to emphasise the fact that he will be the 'I' which he was originally meant to be. In other words, he will have become the personality which God originally intended in His purpose for man. We must not forget this for, if we do, we will fail to realise what love and life in love really is, namely a relationship between persons who give themselves fully and wholly to each other. In no way do they cease to be themselves, but they have such a relationship that they perfectly understand themselves and remain themselves and yet are entirely committed to the one loved. Eternal life does not consist of some mystical ecstasy in which a man loses his personality and surrenders himself in a self-effacing loss of individuality. It is rather a conscious and voluntary fellowship with God whereby a man fully knows God face to face (that is, as person to person), and fully understands himself as the person God made him to be.

Only when we fully live in God do we live our own true personal life. That is the liberty of the children of God which they will experience in [105/106] glory. Mystical ecstasies may give those who cultivate that sort of thing a certain sense of liberation, but it is so often a liberation without definite content. This so-called liberation may often be followed by depressions of various kinds, so it is therefore not a real liberation and does not result in genuine freedom. Where the personality is slighted or deformed there can never be true liberty. True fellowship with God which really emancipates is therefore something quite different from vague ecstatic absorption into the divinity. It is the free-born and unhampered fellowship of love, in which the personality develops in a healthy and meaningful way as it voluntarily and consciously consecrates itself to God and to His will.

This was what Paul looked forward to and anticipated with such intense appreciation that he did not count all his sufferings worthy of comparison with so great a glory. For him it would have been no rich experience but rather an impoverishment if an ecstatic experience of the divinity had been all that he could hope for. We have no reason to believe that he ever had such ecstasy as involved the relinquishing of his own personality - -not even the experience of being caught up to the third heaven deprived him of the dignity of still being himself, as he assures us in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4: "a man in Christ".

"... I am what I am ..."

No, full and free fellowship with God face to face is our wonderful hope of glory. The foundational characteristics of our earthly personality remain the same, freed from weakness and imperfection. Each one of us will remain 'what I am' or 'who I am' (1 Corinthians 15:10), not wanting to be anything else. Then each one will live in the full sense of being whole, without any thought of envying others but rather continuing to breathe freely and joyfully to exclaim: "By the grace of God I am what I am". The mystics speak of God being a sea into which we all, like rivers, will one day flow and so form a comprehensive oneness. That is not true. God is a Spirit, that is a Person. We say 'Thou' to Him and He says 'you' to us. He is an 'I' in His relationship to each one of us, and you and I are an 'I' in our relationship with Him. God will never alter that and we are deeply grateful that this is so. When the Bible teaches us that we are 'in God', it does not mean that we have been absorbed into the divinity and have lost our own personal entity; on the contrary, we have only really found ourselves by being in God. Only by living in Him will each one of us become the personality which He intended and desires that we should be. Not that being 'in God' means that we become as God. God is the only One who has not derived His existence from any other. He has life in Himself. Even in the ages to come we will not have life in ourselves, but will always and exclusively have it from Him. He is, and remains God: we are, and remain creatures, His sons and His daughters. He is, and remains, the Lord: we are, and remain, His servants.

"... we have fellowship with one another ..."

When you and I live in the full knowledge of God, in the complete experience of His love and total and free consecration to Him, we will also live in perfect fellowship with one another. To give ourselves to God in free and joyful love includes giving ourselves to all the redeemed. This embraces all redeemed personalities who are each individuals, with their own personality different from every other. The recognition of the fact that each one possesses a unique 'I' makes possible our living in perfect mutual fellowship. The unity of the people of God, which in this dispensation is often hidden, will then come fully into view as the unity of love in the diversity of personalities. As we then know God, we shall also know each other; and as we rejoice in God we shall also be able to rejoice over one another without reserve or distance. All self-seeking and personality clashes will have disappeared for ever. Then we shall understand why God created each one of us as a unique individual, and why the personality of each one is so important. For then we shall realise how each one of us displays the glory of God in his own way, and that the experience of each becomes enrichment for all the others as each appropriates God's grace in his own particular way. Then everything artificial and impersonal will have disappeared; there will be no more imitation and no more unreality. We shall no longer hear meaningless and unworthy phraseologies, for all will speak in simple sincerity. Fellowship in love does not provide for the deprivation of the individual entity of any of us, but rather releases us in true relationship with God and with one another. This is the liberty which God's children will have in the glory. Such fellowship is infinitely blessed and so it is worthy -- worthy of our God and worthy of His creation, man. [106/107]

"... ye, brethren, were called for freedom ..."

All this should be working effectively in our life today. The liberty which we will possess in glory will be the perfect fulfilment of the liberty which the gospel already gives us down here on the earth. This liberty of the children of God must operate decisively in our life here and now. Already we are to prove and stand in the good of this same liberty, with all the blessed features which we have been considering. Let us, then, gratefully receive every spiritual help which contributes to this glorious purpose; but let us reject all spurious offers of a so-called liberty which in fact threatens to rob us of our true heritage in Christ.



Harry Foster

Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

EZEKIEL had many experiences of the Spirit but none so strange as the one on the day when he was taken to Dry Bone Valley. "Behold," he ejaculated, and then again: "Lo" (verse 2), as the full nature of this scene of desolation broke upon him. And then the Spirit of the Lord posed the question to him: "Son of man, can these bones live?" No wonder that even a man of God like Ezekiel had no glib answer to such an enquiry. If it happened it would be one of the most sensational miracles which could ever occur. Very sensibly he put the whole matter back to God: "Thou knowest", whereupon he was shown that God not only knows but He operates. The scattered dry bones became a living army on the march. In this way God declared for all time that His own purposes for His earthly people Israel will never be abandoned.

The vision is yet for the future. There are those who judge that we are now halfway through the realisation of this remarkable prophecy; that Israel's dry bones have already become united and clothed with flesh, so that we are now only waiting for the final breath of God which will complete the national miracle. There is much to confirm such an interpretation, but there is also a significant weakness about it. When the Lord Himself applied the interpretation of the vision, He spoke of His people confessing: "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off" (verse 11). In other words the prelude to such a startling divine resurrection is complete despair from the human side. Is this true of modern Israel? Or does she yet have to come to a new zero of hopelessness before God can fulfil His Word? Before she is recovered must she yet despair?

The very word 'despair' reminds us of the personal experience of the great Israelite, Paul, in his own proving of resurrection power: "We despaired even of life ... that we should ... trust ... in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). So we turn from God's promised miracle for a nation to enquire about His working in individual Christians. In this way, without in any sense lessening our conviction about Israel's future, we may discover what this message can mean to us personally. Are we feeling dry and scattered? Does the question arise as to whether there is any future here on earth for us? Then let us turn again to Ezekiel's vision so that we may find new inspiration from Ezekiel's God.


Resurrection is the divine method of working. The Scriptures consistently describe God's activities as being based on the principle of resurrection. Let us consider some examples:

1. Job

We take it that Job was a very early figure among the patriarchs, and that his long and enthralling book has a message for us all. In the New Testament we are reminded of his patience (James 5:11); but if he waited, what was he waiting for? The answer is that he needed a miracle of resurrection. His friends alternated advice as to action with counsels of despair, but Job maintained that his faith would continue [107/108] even down to death: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15), and he also voiced the triumphant confidence that issues out of death are guaranteed by his living Redeemer (19:25). He was right! His dry bones did live again. His final vindication brought him not only to the doubling of all his possessions but also to the replacing of his lost sons and daughters by an equal number (42:13). In this way God established at the dawn of history that His principle of blessing is resurrection.

2. Isaac

We are told that Abraham's triumphant faith involved him in going down into the valley of death itself (Hebrews 11:17-19). Even the miracle of new life which was embodied in his son Isaac had to be delivered over to death, not only to test Abraham's obedience but to establish the basis upon which God dealt with him as that which is applicable to every genuine believer. If God had asked him: 'Can a slain Isaac live again?', as He asked Ezekiel about the dead bones, Abraham would surely have surpassed the prophet's faith and uttered a triumphant: 'Yes'! It is not without significance that even such a man of God as Abraham took almost a lifetime to learn this lesson of faith in the God of resurrection. After all, Paul openly confessed that it was a lesson which he was only painfully and slowly learning (2 Corinthians 1:9). If we are men and women of faith, then this is the great principle which we must grasp, namely that God always works on the basis of death and resurrection.

3. Jonah

There is a sense in which the greatest 'resurrection man' of the Old Testament was Jonah. Christ Himself chose this prophet's experience as the illustration and foreshadowing of His own burial and resurrection (Matthew 12:40). Somehow this brings us more comfort. Job was a massive man spiritually, a veritable giant of faith. Abraham was even greater, for he was God's acknowledged friend. We who know that we are both insignificant and unworthy, feel ourselves to be completely outclassed by such great men of God. 'God would do that for them,' we argue, 'but our faults and feebleness make it most unlikely that He would ever do it for us.' So it helps us very much if we turn to a man who was more noted for his faults than for his faith, a wilful man, an unloving man, an altogether unworthy man and -- to our surprise -- we find that the mighty miracle of resurrection came to him.

If ever I feel particularly depressed, I invariably find enormous comfort in Jonah 2. Here was a man in the direst of straits, a man who was touching bottom in an extreme way; and moreover one who had brought all his troubles upon himself. How could he pray? But he did pray, even though it was from "the belly of hell" (Jonah 2:2). How could God answer such a man's prayer? Well, the fact remains that He could and He did, for "salvation is of the Lord" (2:9). So even man's unworthiness does not paralyse God. Far from it! Jonah's self-will and self-righteousness delayed the divine plans, but when he came low in spirit as well as in circumstances, then God "who raiseth the dead", raised him and renewed his commission to service. We presume that the startling success of Jonah's ministry was partly due to this resurrection experience. God's principle of resurrection is essential for fruitful service. This, as I have said, is the basis upon which He always works.

4. Christ

We know, of course, that the whole redemptive work of the Lord Jesus hinges on His literal resurrection from the dead. But even before He went to the cross He made it very plain that the validity of His right to bear the name of Jehovah was proved in terms of resurrection: "I am the resurrection and the life", He affirmed. It seems clear from many of His miracles that He only began to work when men's efforts and expectations were exhausted.

Take the first of them all, the beginning of the 'sign' miracles described in John's Gospel, which was that of the water turned into wine. It was only when all the bridegroom's resources were completely used up and when Mary desisted from offering her advice, that Jesus began to work. Until then He insisted that 'His hour' had not yet come (John 2:4). Clearly 'His hour' is when everything human is at zero. So long as men had wine and Mary had plans He was not ready to act. The moment that everything was left to Him was the moment of His power. Cana of Galilee laid the foundation for Christ's manifestation of His glory, showing that it was to be based on the principle of resurrection. If we pass to the seventh great sign of that Gospel, the [108/109] climax of all Christ's miracles, we find that once again He deliberately waited until all human hope had gone before He called Lazarus from the dead. "Lord, by this time he stinketh; for he hath been dead four days," expostulated Martha, only to be reminded by the Lord Jesus that this very fact made a suitable platform for a manifestation of the glory of God (John 11:39-40).

5. The Church

So the Church came into being, a community of those who confessed with their mouths the Lord Jesus and believed in their hearts that God had raised Him from the dead. From the first, however, its members not only proclaimed Christ's resurrection but were led into experiences which demonstrated that with God resurrection is an abiding principle. Read the book of the Acts with this in mind, and you will find God's people constantly involved in fresh experiences of need and almost despair, only to find new deliverances which led to mightier blessings. It is not always easy, nor is it necessary, to explain how or why things so worked out. Those concerned must have been first puzzled and then relieved as they experienced these miracles of divine intervention. The epistles, however, do give us an explanation of what lay behind these descents into the depths and the subsequent uplifts to the heights, pointing out that they represent the working out of the principle of resurrection. "For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). So we look through this essentially Jewish vision to find a relevant message for ourselves. It is clear for all to see that God always works on the principle of resurrection.


By a quite deliberate action, the Lord confronted Ezekiel with an impossible situation. Thinking superficially we might judge that the description was exaggerated. Not bodies, not skeletons even, and not just bones, but scattered and very dry ones. We must remember, though, that Ezekiel, far from inventing this scene, had it shown to him by God Himself; and God never exaggerates. If, then, we ask why the picture was such a dark one, we must answer that God purposely chose this means of conveying to His people the essential basis of His working. We remind ourselves again of Paul's words: "We have had the answer of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). The human approach to any situation is embodied in the saying: 'While there's life, there's hope'. This vision, though, gives us a glimpse into another dimension of life, the divine; and we find that real hope only begins when all lesser hopes have died.

Take this matter of Ezekiel's ministry among the remnant. He only began it after the second stage of the captivity, but when the city was still standing and the temple intact, so that the false prophets could insist that they would never be destroyed. Strangely enough that was a period in Ezekiel's life when God kept him dumb, as can be verified in 24:27 and 33:22. He was not literally silent, but he had nothing to say to the superficial optimists, but devoted chapters 28 to 32 to the non-Jewish nations. In other words, God had no word of hope for Israel until all man's false hopes had been entirely exploded. When, however, tidings came back to the prophet that the city had finally been overthrown, then his mouth was opened to tell of God's promise for a new day. So in this chapter 37 we are told that the whole house of Israel will confess: "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost" (v.11). On the basis of this confession, the Lord finds Himself free to promise that He will open their graves and bring them back into the land. It was as though He said: 'If you have been brought to the end of yourselves and have abandoned all your hope, then I will now act in resurrection recovery and prove Myself to be the God of hope'. I have already stated that I do not think that modern Israel has by any means reached this zero point, and therefore expect that the nation will yet be brought into some extreme of human hopelessness before God fully implements this vision. We, however, are not discussing Israel, but ourselves. We, too, must be people of the resurrection. But such a miracle demands despair from the human side. The prelude to resurrection is always death. We shall know little of the power of His resurrection unless we are first prepared to be conformed to His death.

Perhaps a consideration of the spiritual agonies of the man described in Romans 7 may illuminate [109/110] this truth for us. Whether that man was Paul the Christian or not, it is undeniably true that the letter was written to Christians and that the very personal nature of the passage verses 7 to 25 suggests that the apostle was seeking to write helpfully to his readers, leading them through the valley of despair to the mount of transfiguration. Here was a man trying to achieve holiness by personal effort, struggling with all his might to fulfil God's "holy, and righteous and good" commandments (v.12), only to discover that the more he struggled, the worse his condition became. It was a losing battle, and no wonder, for it is not in the power of fallen human nature to conquer sin and live in holiness.

Note that the use of the personal pronoun, 'I', 'me' and 'my' appears no less than forty-five times in this short passage, until the final confession is made: 'I of myself (i.e. 'left to myself') am bound to revert to serving sin, even though I desire and plan to serve God' (v.25). This is wretchedness indeed! This is "the body of this death". And yet out of his deep despair this same believer is able to cry: "I thank God"! How can this be? It is because his thanks are made "through Jesus Christ our Lord". He is the One "raised from the dead" (v.4), who is ready to share His resurrection life with us. Is it too much to suggest that many do not enjoy the fullness of Romans 8 because they have never really come to despair of themselves as this Romans 7 man did? The prelude to resurrection is death.

As always, we turn back to our Lord Jesus to understand divine truth. When He rose from the dead it was not by self-effort but because "the glory of the Father" came down into that silent tomb and triumphantly quickened that inert body (Romans 6:4). In the brief article on 'Inspired Parentheses' on the inner cover of this magazine I have drawn attention to that most significant Second Day, when our Lord's body lay in quiet expectation of the resurrection morning. In this connection that Sabbath is highly relevant. In His dying moments Jesus declared that His flesh would rest in hope (Psalm 16:9). He was willing to wait for God's answer to death. and He did wait all through the long hours of that mysterious interlude, until God's Third Day arrived. This points the way for us. It is only when God's people despair of all merely human effort and accept the divine verdict of the cross on the whole of the natural man, that the full power and glory of resurrection can be displayed in them. Israel's dry bones, far from being too dead for God's purposes, were only now ready for His miracle of resurrection. As the startled Ezekiel saw this amazing answer to the question posed by God, he must have been devoutly thankful that he had not intruded with his own ideas, and had left the matter to his faithful, covenant-keeping God. Our trouble so often is that we cannot wait for God, but must needs interfere with our own ideas or efforts.


And yet there was a sense in which Ezekiel had to play an important part in the great resurrection miracle. It was God who performed the action but, as He so often does, He chose to make use of a human instrument. The prophet's part in this miracle was small and yet it was absolutely essential. It had two aspects, his speaking to men and his speaking to the Spirit of God.

1. The Word of God

Ezekiel was told to speak in the Lord's name: "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them ..." (v.4). God always works through His Word. The Lord Jesus foretold the day when all humanity will emerge from its tombs, and said that this will occur at the sound of His voice (John 5:28). This is future. But He also spoke of the spiritual experience which is for now (John 5:25), and promised present eternal life on this same basis, i.e. hearing His voice. This present hearing of His voice can only be through those who speak the Word of God in His name. The parallel with Ezekiel suggests that the Lord needs men and women who will so speak His Word, and through it the dead will come into newness of life. This is familiar to us. We find it described in the book of the Acts, and we rejoice that from that day to this, the Lord has had His witnesses who speak for Him. Sometimes we do so feeling, like Ezekiel, that we prophesy in a dead valley to dry and scattered bones; but we must not despair. We are witnesses of the resurrection, not trying to get people to lift themselves, but proclaiming Christ's power to lift them. The task is humanly impossible. Like Ezekiel, we are by no means sure that there can be any positive results. But the Lord does not ask us to explain or to understand, but only to obey. When Ezekiel opened his mouth, God did the rest. [110/111]

2. Prayer

In the vision Ezekiel had to speak twice. On the first occasion his utterance brought a restoration of the form of life which was truly remarkable, but the essential breath or spirit was still lacking. The prophet was therefore told to prophesy again, not this time to the people but to the Spirit. (It should be noted that in the original, the word for 'Spirit', 'breath' and 'wind' is the same.) So this time Ezekiel opened his mouth to call for the life-giving Spirit, an action which seems to indicate prayer rather than preaching, speaking to God and not to man.

One thing is certain, and that is that prophesying with no prayer background is ineffectual speaking. The very first allusion to a prophet makes it clear that his function was to pray: "He is a prophet, and he shall pray for you" (Genesis 20:7). If, therefore, we are to see God's resurrection power at work, we have got to take our prayer ministry seriously. In the historic restoration of God's people to the land, it is clear that the key factor was the prayer of Jeremiah, of Daniel, of Ezra and of Nehemiah. None of these was an inactive or unpractical man -- far from it! Nehemiah was himself a worker, if ever there was one; but even a cursory glance at his book will reveal that absolute priority was given to prayer. And what shall we say of our Lord Jesus? He did so many miracles without seeming to pray especially about them; but when it came to raising Lazarus from the dead, He deliberately paused before the tomb and publicly declared that what He was about to do was in answer to prayer already made on the matter: "Father, I thank thee that your heardest me ..." (John 11:41). This clearly shows that before He spoke the life-giving word, Jesus had prayed and received assurance of the answer. Our Saviour is the great Prophet of Resurrection.

"Can these bones live?", God asked Ezekiel. When Ezekiel passed the question back to Him, the Lord made it plain that they could if only the prophet would get involved in both prayer and preaching. And so it proved. The scattered bones became a living, marching army. Surely God still looks to us for co-operation. We, too, are meant to be prophets of resurrection.



(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)

John H. Paterson



THE art of letter-writing is dying out, killed by the coming of the telephone and the news broadcast. For most of us, writing letters means no more nowadays than a stiff note to the electricity board about our new oven, or a wish-you-were-here postcard from the seaside. Like tatting, or pressing leaves, it seems to be one of the polite accomplishments of a past generation which we have let slip. Yet, in the past, when travel was difficult, and it might take months to receive a reply, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely by letter was important; one could not telephone next day to sort out misunderstandings, or offer that apologetic kind of restatement that begins, 'What I really meant to say was ...' The letter had to convey exactly the right impression the first time, for there might well be no second opportunity.

Most of our knowledge of the Apostle Paul comes to us through his letters. He was a great and, as we are going to see, a very accomplished letter writer. Yet even he did not always succeed in creating the impression he intended. It seems evident, for example, that when he sent his first letter to Corinth -- a letter which he hoped would bring the Christians there to their senses and shock them into putting right the grotesque moral conditions in the church -- their reaction was not to repent, but to say 'Who does he think he is?' It then took a second letter from Paul to reinforce the first -- to authenticate his own apostleship.

But there is only one Epistle to the Ephesians (if, indeed, it was really written to the church of Ephesus -- some scholars think rather that it [111/112] was a kind of general epistle, a circular to be passed around a number of churches). It is constructed with great care and designed to have the maximum impact on its readers. For of course how we say a thing is of the utmost importance. We all know the kind of person who tells a story but manages to bury the point under a mass of trivial detail, so that the impact -- the 'punch-line' -- is lost upon the hearer. We have all stood outside an office, too, and marshalled the case we are going to present to the person inside -- bank manager, tax collector, housing official -- carefully arranging our points in the right order, so that we shall make the most favourable impression possible upon the person we wish to influence.

The Epistle to the Ephesians has an interesting and rather unusual construction. Some analysts content themselves with dividing it simply into two halves: the first three chapters form the first half, which is theoretical, and the second three chapters then form the other half, which is practical. From here, it is a short and easy step to convincing oneself that the first half contains great spiritual truths, worthy of Paul at his best, while the second half is full of tedious practicalities about stealing or telling lies, which Christians would not dream of doing anyway. This is certainly not, however, the impression that Paul set out to create when he wrote the letter.


On any reading, the words which occur in the very middle of the letter hold the key to the rest. These words are found in the first verse of the fourth chapter: "I therefore ... beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling wherewith you are called." It is, in fact, the single word 'therefore ' which gives the clue. It links together the two halves of the epistle, disparate as they may at first appear. As we read the word, we realise that Paul has been leading up to something; that unconsciously, perhaps, we have been prepared by the first three chapters for what is to follow. 'Therefore' alerts us to the fact that there is a logic here; that those wonderful visions of spiritual blessing in Chapter 1 and the story of our dramatic rescue from sin and death in Chapter 2 and the prayers of Paul for more vision and more appreciation, are being presented in the letter for a definite purpose. Paul is not interested in having his readers merely bask in the glow of sins forgiven and union with Christ. Lurking behind all his word-pictures is an entirely practical 'therefore'.

It may well challenge our own understanding of this epistle if we stop to realise that, seen in context, the really important part of the letter is not the first half but the second. If we are honest with ourselves, we may well have to admit that we have often enjoyed the great spiritual truths of Ephesians 1-3, but have then skipped the practicalities of the latter part of Chapter 4 and of Chapter 5. Paul, we tell ourselves, was always bringing up these practical details of Church life and including them as a kind of appendix to his letters. Our eye travels swiftly over them, to alight on the splendid passage in Chapter 6 about the armour of God.

But if we allow this to happen we are wrong. Seen in their context, the great truths of Chapters 1-3 are included simply to ensure that we read Chapters 4-6 with a heightened sense of impact. We are to appreciate more clearly the importance of not stealing (4:28) or of treating our employers properly (6:9), because of what is involved -- nothing less than the eternal purpose of God in His creation. Paul includes Chapters 1-3 for the weight that they lend to his 'therefore'.

In R. D. Blackmore's famous story, Lorna Doone, the giant hero, Jan Ridd, was asked to help some miners by splitting a huge stone which had defied their efforts. He took one of their hammers and swung it against the stone, but found that the hammer was too light to make any impression on it. So he tied together three hammers not, as he was careful to explain, in order to strike three blows, but so as to increase the impact of the single blow, which then split the stone.

In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has prepared his triple hammer, so that when the blow is struck the impact shall be as great as possible: "I therefore beseech you". Only when we appreciate what is at stake can we understand the importance of his call to a worthy walk. So we shall examine these first three chapters in our next study, to try to understand the logic of the case. What is it that gives such importance to the ordinary doings of our daily lives? Why should it matter whether or not we speak the truth? What has marriage got to do with the eternal purpose of God? Paul is going [112/113] to answer these questions, and fearing lest his own written answers and his own powers of persuasion may not suffice, he is going to add to them his prayers, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know ..."



T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8-10

THE Lord Jesus was the embodiment of the incorruptible. Life and incorruption were embodied in Him in terms of manhood, as the true Man. We leave out of our present consideration His Deity, for very God of very God leaves no room for discussion or argument concerning incorruption. We will consider Him in His capacity as Son of Man, by which He makes the whole question and issue of the incorruptible a human question.

Man, or manhood, is a big and specific thought of God. The idea of Man, humanity, was born in the mind of God. He is a peculiar creation intended for a special purpose. When the writer of the letter to the Hebrews asserts that "Not unto angels did he subject the world to come", he proceeds to ask: "What is man?" (Hebrews 2:5-6). 'Not unto angels ... but man ...' This, then, is not a matter which concerns angels and it is certainly not a matter of abstract and unrelated ideas. There is a testimony which has to be found in the concrete expression of man and manhood. The Bible makes it perfectly clear from beginning to end that the idea connected with man or manhood is that of representation. "In the image of God", in the likeness of God -- that is representation. The question running all through the Bible is as to whether man does or does not fulfil the purpose of his being, which is to represent God, to express God.

Now man was made for incorruption, for incorruptible life issuing eventually in his glorification. I am not going to argue that from the Scripture, for those who know their Bibles will be able to support the statement. But man missed the purpose of his creation, he missed the incorruptible life, by his disobedience and unbelief, by his rebellion against God, his self-will, his pride. He is no longer a candidate for glory in his natural condition. Glory is not possible for man as he is found outside of Christ. But Christ came, and in His coming fulfilled a work by which the destiny and purpose of man was recovered and secured. In Christ, incorruptible life is recovered for man, for He was a Man who could not be corrupted, and therefore corruption was kept out of the very stream of His life. It was not possible that He should see corruption even in the grave. "He whom God raised up saw no corruption" (Acts 13:37). He was incorruptible in His life and therefore triumphant over corruption in His death. So Christ was constituted of incorruptible characteristics, and we are now going to ask what these were.


The first, then, of these characteristics was His union with God as His Father -- a simple but most profound truth. We are aware of how often He used that word: 'Father', and how often He said: 'My Father' and then: 'The Father and I'. His enemies saw the point; they were not slow to pick on what they thought was blasphemy: "He makes Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). That union between Him and the Father was of such a kind that their relationship was absolute and final. That relationship was established by the Holy Spirit. I am speaking now of Christ as the Son of Man. In his birth He was begotten of the Holy Ghost. In His work, He functioned by reason of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. His walk was always in and by the Spirit. In His cross, He offered Himself up by the eternal Spirit. And we can complete the circle by saying that it was through that eternal Spirit that He was raised. The Holy Spirit initiated, maintained [113/114] and consummated that relationship with the Father. The union with the Father was the governing thing in His whole life. At every point, at all times, He referred and deferred to God as His Father. All His works were out from the Father: "The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:24). Everything for Him was out from the Father, by way of this union, this oneness, and this was the occasion of all the conflict in His life. It was the very point of all the attack and assault of the enemy. The one thing that the Evil One and all the evil powers were ever focusing upon was this oneness and fellowship with the Father, in order to try somehow to drive in a wedge, to get that relationship ruptured. That is very significant. If an enemy concentrates all his attention and all his resources on anyone point, it is clear that he regards that as the point upon which the whole matter can be made to collapse. It did not matter which method the enemy used -- whether open antagonism or friendly suggestion or subtle subterfuge, or any other means -- the point was to try to get between the Father and the Son.


That union, then, that relationship, was the explanation of all His sufferings and testings -- indeed of the whole ordeal of His life. Would He, on any consideration, let go, violate the principle of that union? To maintain and preserve it, to adhere to it, was no small or light thing for Him. For that one thing, the most terrible cost ever paid in the history of the universe was paid, the cost of that dark moment of the cross when everything seemed lost. There was not one glimmer of light, even from the Father's face, while He was under that test. Yes, this was a costly thing. There must have been some very great issue involved in this union. There was nothing superficial about it, but rather something infinitely great. What was it?


It can be answered in one brief sentence. Primarily, it was the issue of providing God with a place. God created the first man in order that He might have a place in that man and in all his seed; and not just a place, but the place. In a sense God's place had been taken from Him. God had been rejected and put out of His place with man. He still remained sovereign Creator, of course. He still remained Ruler and Lord, the original Owner, but there was a difference. Let us look at it like this.

Here is a landlord. He builds a house and he is the owner of that house. In kindness and friendliness he lets that house to some people, and to begin with, the relationship is quite a happy one, so happy that he is able to visit the house and is welcomed and given a place in the family; they are always glad to see him. But someone comes along while he is not there and begins to say things about him that are unworthy and that are scandalous, defaming him and making evil suggestions against him, with a view to getting him out of his place in that home. This evil person succeeds so well that no longer has he a place in the heart of that family. He is still the landlord, the rightful owner, and all the law is on his side, but there is a difference between being a landlord with legal rights and a friend who has a place in the family. That is what I mean. God lost His place. He is still sovereign Owner of this universe. He is still Lord, and one day He will assert His legal rights over His creation. But do you think that is good enough? Within His creation He wants to have a place.

There is all the difference between sovereignty and fellowship. The union between Christ and His Father was not the relationship of a sovereign and a subject. He did not live that life and do that work under the sovereign government of God. No, it was all on a different footing from that. It was fellowship. God can do a lot of things with us and through us in a sovereign way, but that is never, never good enough for Him. He wants us in fellowship; He wants a place, not as sovereign and despot, but as Father. Father ! That is the significance of the word on the lips of the Lord Jesus. He taught them to pray: 'Father'. The significance, then, of the relationship between Christ and God as His Father was that God had a place in the heart of a Man.

The Bible is occupied with that one concern; that is the issue which arises all the way through. God is seeking to have a place in the heart of man -- somewhere where He can be known in terms of fellowship, of love, in terms of a delight to have Him. The Old Testament is full of that in type and illustration. He seeks some place for Him Name, where His Name is loved, some place [114/115] where He can meet men on the ground of fellowship and love. The New Testament brings that out into bold relief. Its beginnings contain links between the Old and the New. Christ, as Son of Man, is the inclusive link. Here again is the law of incorruptibility. There is that which will go through to eternity, something that Satan cannot destroy, something that death cannot annul. There is something that is so precious to God that it will appear again for ever. When all that is capable of corruption has gone, the love relationship as between Christ and His Father will abide. Oh, what a difference there is between this and the kind of relationship with God that exists in general!

This, of course, is clearly seen to be the idea of the New Testament as to the individual. This is what God is after with us all. It is just that -- to have a place in our hearts on the basis of love and fellowship. "My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). That, too, is the idea concerning the nucleus -- that they, even the little companies of the two and three, should give Him a place. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I" (Matthew 18:20) and: "I come unto you" (John 14:18). And it is the New Testament idea of the whole Church. What does the Church mean in the divine thought? Just a place for God in love relationship, in perfect fellowship. That is the idea of the Church.

So, then, if Christ meant anything, He signified the coming of God into this world in terms of fellowship. And this is an eternal issue. If we could project ourselves into the ages of the ages, the eternal hereafter, and see the nature of things, as it will be then, we should find it was just this: a perfect harmony between God and man, so harmonious that it is all music. There is no discord, no strain, no shadow; there is no suspicion, no prejudice, no fear. All those things have gone with the corruptible: it is the incorruptible which remains. And in this first place the incorruptible is this -- fellowship with God. It is this kind of relationship. It is an eternal issue.


Therefore the test of everything for us will be: How much of God came in by our having been here? That is a fairly thorough-going test. It may sound very exacting, but it is just this -- how much of God came in by your and my having been here? How much, afterward, will it be possible for others to say: 'Well, through that life I came to know God, I came to fellowship with God, to know more of Him'?

Yes, that is testing and discriminating. The test of everything, of all our teaching and all our labours, is how much of it results in more of God -- not more of knowledge, not more of mental apprehension, but how much more of God? As I have talked with others about the life-work and teaching of certain men of God in the past, we have agreed that even though there may have been things in their teaching which we did not feel able to accept, they themselves had left us a heritage, they have given us a deposit of God. There is something of the Lord that has come through them to us, and that is what marks them out to us. It is not just that they were great teachers, great organisers of Christian work, but that somehow they have passed to us a deposit of God; God has come through them to the enrichment and enlargement of our lives.

That is the test of everything. For me, at least, it is a searching test -- one that I wonder whether I can face. Is it going to be like that, that after all the speaking, after all the teaching, there is a heritage of the Lord Himself left behind? The teaching of the truths about the Church as the House of God is important, but we need to beware of putting the emphasis on the truth of the thing, instead of the spiritual reality of how it works out. This issue is this -- that God comes in. His place is provided, He is there. We have many meetings and other Christian activities, but if they do not issue in the people concerned having something more of the Lord Himself, then the whole thing is futile. Yes, with all our exact technique and the rest -- if the Lord is not found there, it is meaningless, valueless. All must be related to this one issue, that of God having His own rightful place. That is the incorruptible element.

This is what the apostle says in our Scripture: "Be not ashamed ... of the testimony of our Lord". What is this testimony of our Lord? It is that He: "annulled death, and brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel". The testimony of our Lord is His incorruptible [115/116] life. In His life here on earth the Lord Jesus provided a place for God, and there was no place in His life for anything else. Oh, that we might be like that! It will be that which will determine the measure of the permanent, the eternal, the intrinsic value of our lives.



John Kennedy

THE world of today in whatever realm, business, politics, religion or any other, is in crying need of people who are above the average. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Church. The Church is characterised by mediocrity, and is often dying slowly as a result. The irony of the situation is that the Church professes to be the recipient of spiritual power and insight foreign to the non-Christian world. Yet when it comes to producing outstanding people, the Church often does no better than worldly business enterprises which quite candidly are dependent upon their own efforts to produce leadership.

Why does the Lord allow His Church to suffer from a lack of leadership which leaves it without direction or spiritual incentive? Why does the Lord allow a church to be born without providing what is necessary for it to grow up to spiritual maturity? Is it enough to say, as I have heard said so many times: 'There is so little gift'? Is it all God's fault?

Is the Church mediocre because it is not in the nature of the Church to be anything else? Does God's transforming grace transform only up to certain not-too-high limits? Or do we really like mediocrity in spite of our outcry against it? Mediocrity is usually fairly comfortable. It makes no great demands. It allows people to get on with the business of living their own lives unnoticed. Mediocrity has a built-in protection against the attention attracted by those who go to extremes. In fact mediocrity has much to commend it to those who are content to live mediocre lives, and to others as well. The reasons why it is attractive, however, are not particularly spiritual.

One of the baffling things about the New Testament is the paradox so often found in its pages. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility; faith and works; grace and judgment. These and many more are all in the Bible. Yet the Bible does not seem to expect us to hold to only one of each of these opposites; nor are we expected to hold a delicate balance between the two, never coming down on one side or the other. The Bible seems to expect us to hold on to both sides of a paradox, however contradictory they seem, and to hold both sides firmly.

The tension between fellowship and leadership

Mediocrity is the half-way house between fellowship and leadership. Recent years have seen a tremendous emphasis on the need of fellowship among Christians. Christians of all sorts and conditions have been enquiring afresh into the Biblical nature of the Church. The truth of the Church as the body of Christ has come to the fore, a body in which each part is active and has a contribution to make to the whole. In Western countries there is an increasing move away from the institutional churches. Believers are finding fellowship in house groups where there is freedom for all to participate in corporate worship and mutual edification. Much of this is healthy and good, but certain weaknesses are also apparent. There is the danger of mutual edification becoming stabilised on a superficial level; of a zeal which is largely untaught and ultimately founders or is able only to produce what is of an inferior spiritual quality. In other words, even the warmth of vital Christian fellowship can settle down into mediocrity.

The present emphasis on fellowship can be seen, to a large extent, as a reaction against a type of leadership in the past which has left no room in the Church for ordinary believers to participate. Efficient leadership, the more so if it is also outstanding, tends to monopolise the scene, while less gifted mortals slip into the background and allow the leaders to get on with it. The strong leader is often far in advance of others in vision and understanding. Alone he forges ahead, while others who feel sure he [116/117] knows where he is going are content to follow. The leader can set the aims and map out the way to achieve them. Under his leadership they are easily achieved. Strong leadership, however, is not self perpetuating. It lasts for one generation only. The strong leader usually has no time to teach others, so once he is gone only mediocrity is left.

From whichever end we begin, leadership or fellowship, we are likely to end up between the two in the slough of mediocrity with no strength left to go any further. If we should gain sufficient momentum to swing beyond the mediocre, the likelihood is that we will end up at the opposite extreme, no better or worse than we were to begin with. Something obviously is wrong. The Church should have purpose, understanding, initiative and power. An emphasis on leadership seems to concentrate all these in one man. An emphasis on fellowship seems so to dissipate them among the many that they are practically lost to sight. To find a mean between leadership and fellowship is to lose the blessings of both and to settle for mediocrity.

Some children are naturally brilliant. They will make progress whether encouraged or not. Others have little capacity for progress. No amount of encouragement will coax them beyond a limited measure of attainment. The majority, however, have the ability to progress, but are dependent upon encouragement to do so. In the spiritual realm it is much the same. If a believer or a church is going to advance beyond mediocrity, he is dependent upon a competent ministry of the Word, and example. Where leadership does not have time for this, it does not have time for true fellowship.

The dangers of fellowship

"Ye are all one in Christ Jesus," says Paul (Galatians 3:28). Relationship with Christ brings all men on to a level of equality. Yet it is not an unqualified equality. Equality does not mean complete uniformity. Before the Lord, all His children are of equal worth. All have some contribution to make to the building up of the body. The practice of fellowship is based on these facts. On the other hand, we do not receive an equal blessing through each believer, Some spiritual gifts are of more value than others. We are exhorted to "earnestly desire the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31), presumably because they are a source of greater spiritual benefit.

An emphasis on fellowship is always in danger of rejecting what is outstanding, for the simple reason that anything outstanding does not appear to be consistent with the idea of equality that fellowship suggests. Since no company of believing Christians consists entirely of outstanding people, the tendency is to look upon what the least can give as an acceptable standard. It is an effort for any fellowship to mature beyond certain limits. A conscience may be developed about advancing faster than the slowest member, and the incentive provided by a thought-provoking ministry may be regarded as an intrusion or an optional extra. When this happens, people content themselves that they are experiencing fellowship, and persuade themselves that after all, this is what really matters. But their experience does not necessarily mean progress.

Fellowship which has become experience-centred and limited repels leadership. When a person with an outstanding ministry finds that it is practically impossible to break through and find acceptance in a self-satisfied Christian company, he will offer his contribution where there is a greater willingness to learn from it. Fellowship not infrequently denies the means whereby alone it can grow.

The danger of leadership

Leadership can only function where there are those who need and are willing to be led. While fellowship by its very nature recognises that others can make a contribution to it, leadership by its nature gives rather than receives. Leadership, therefore, tends to forget its need of others and, with a superior air, to pursue an independent way. If the leader cuts himself off from all spiritual ministry, as some do, his own ministry becomes more and more impoverished, because it is limited to the insights of one man untempered by the insights of others.

Peter as an elder exhorts his fellow elders: "Tend the flock of God that is your charge" (1 Peter 5:2). We need to be careful not to take this metaphor too far. A shepherd is always a man, and sheep are always animals. They are permanently inferior to the person who leads them. This is not true, however, with the flock of God. Spiritual life adequately taught should be in a [117/118] state of constant progress. Leadership must be willing to accept the growing spirituality of others on a level with itself. In fact it may even be necessary for leadership to give way to others who have grown in the Spirit. When John the Baptist said of the Lord: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30), he was submitting his own leadership to the leadership of Christ. Strong leaders find it very difficult to resign themselves to accepting others as equals, much less submitting to the leadership of others. The result is that leadership becomes domineering and autocratic. The leader then acts without a thought of teaching others to lead. His action becomes more and more mechanical, and those who follow languish for lack of proper spiritual nurture.

The answer to the problem of mediocrity is the cross, the cross applied to both fellowship and leadership. The privileges of fellowship need to go to the cross in willingness to accept the leadership of a spiritually competent ministry. The privileges of leadership need to go to the cross in a willingness to accept the correctives of fellowship and the insight of others. The cross also means the resurrection of both fellowship and leadership together to a new plane of meaningfulness. The cross means not mediocrity, but triumph.



Graham Scott

JOAB was a strong character, but I believe that he typifies for us the Christian who seeks to do God's will and God's work in the strength of the flesh. He was a man who acted in the flesh and not in the spirit, whose work was bound to end in death and not in life.

1 Chronicles 11:5-7

Joab was a man of courage and strength. The fortress of Jebus seemed impregnable, but David said that the first man who captured it would be made chief and captain. From the fact that Joab was the first man to tackle these Jebusites in their rocky fortress and dispossess them and so was made Commander-in-Chief of David's army, we know that he must have been a man of courage and strength. As we look at the Church today, we exclaim: 'We need men of courage and strength for our time; that is just the kind of man we have need of. Give us more men like that!

2 Samuel 11:14-21

We see also that Joab was a man of loyalty and unquestioning obedience to his leader. Though the instructions must have seemed strange to him, and though he must have suspected what lay behind David's orders, yet he did exactly as he was told. Even though the whole matter was terrible, it reveals Joab as a man who was loyal and unquestioningly obedient to his king. We say again: 'That is a quality which we could do with in our churches today. Would that there were loyalty and obedience to the King among us. We need men and women who are characterised by unquestioning loyalty.'

2 Samuel 12:26-28

Moreover he was marked by real selflessness. Having taken Rabbah, he invited David to come and get all the credit for capturing the city, in spite of the fact that he himself had been responsible for the victory. Again you will agree that we could do with more of this quality in the Church, this selflessness which means that a man looks on the things of others rather than on his own. A willingness for others to be praised for what we ourselves have accomplished is a characteristic which would add to the richness of our Church life.

1 Chronicles 21:1-6

This chapter gives us a further glimpse into Joab's good qualities. When David instructed him and his public officers to go out and number Israel and then to report back, Joab answered: 'Even if the Lord should increase His people one hundred fold, would not your majesty still be king and all the people your slaves? Why should your majesty want to do this, since it will only bring guilt on Israel?' Joab, however, [118/119] was overruled by the king, so he went up and down the whole country, finally returning to David to report the numbers recorded. But so deep was his repugnance to the king's order that he refused to count Levi and Benjamin. Here, then, was a man who was prepared to stand against something which he judged to be destructive to his king and country, a man unafraid of speaking out against what was clearly wrong. Certainly this is one more quality which we could do with in our Church life, and one which we all approve of.

Where, then, did Joab go wrong? He had so many good points which we could wish to see in our churches today, but he also shows us what is destructive to that life. He had the right objectives; he wanted to see Israel secure and prosperous under God's blessing; he wanted to see David firmly established on his throne; all his life was devoted to this end, and all his activities seemed directed towards what was good. We must consider, however, not his objectives but rather the means by which he obtained them. He was quite unscrupulous in this respect and in fact three times committed murder in order to achieve what he considered to be the right end.

2 Samuel 3:17-27

Abner had been Saul's Commander-in-Chief and was now gaining great influence in Saul's house, having his son, Ish-bosheth, in his power. He decided to betray Ish-bosheth and sellout to David, so he visited king David and offered to make a deal with him. David accepted him, thinking that the prospect of uniting Israel was a good one, but he seemed unaware of the dangers of Abner's proposition. He had said to David: "I will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with thee ..." (v.21). In other words, Abner was to be the king-maker; it was he who proposed to give the kingdom, whereas we know that it was God alone who had given the kingdom into the hand of David. This would have been a very dangerous move, a very wrong move from such a man. When Joab came back from his raid, he heard of what had been going on and saw the danger of it. He could discern that just as Ish-bosheth had been beholden to Abner and dependent on him so now David might come under Abner's power. If he had brought the people to be under David's rule, then what was to prevent his taking them away again if it suited him? Joab may have been right in his fears but he was certainly wrong in the way he handled the situation. He saw the danger to David and the kingdom, and he had only one answer -- the knife. So Abner was put out of the way. It may have been a foolish arrangement on the part of David; Joab may have been correct in suspecting it. The trouble was that he dealt with it with the arm of flesh. And that is always wrong.

2 Samuel 18:10-16

Here again we find Joab acting to protect David, in spite of himself. Absalom had rebelled against his father and sought to lead the whole country into revolution. If anyone needed to be put away and deserved to die, it was this troublemaker. Yet David had given instructions to the leaders of the three bands of his own soldiers that at all costs they should spare Absalom. It was ridiculous really, for the only way of saving David's own life and preserving the kingdom was to be rid of this revolutionary. Joab was well aware of this, being a man of sound common sense, so that he took no notice of David's orders or of the inhibitions of the soldier who brought him the information, but thrust his darts through the heart of Absalom. Was this the right way of ridding Israel of trouble? The objective was right enough, but we are still left wondering about the methods of this strong-armed Joab.

2 Samuel 20:4-10

What had happened had produced a break in the relationship between David and Joab, and it seems that because of this David had decided to replace Joab by making Amasa his new Commander-in-Chief. Abishai personally saved David's life (2 Samuel 21:17) and Joab had been given his position as the promised reward for the man who captured Jerusalem, so David owed a lot to these sons of Zeruiah and yet he now proposed to come to terms with Absalom's rebel commander and promote him to the position of Commander of the Israelite army. There seems to have been nothing in Amasa's history or skill to warrant such an action; rather does it appear to have been a compromising attempt to re-unite Israel. Even so, Amasa was dilatory in discharging his new duties, and this gave Joab his opportunity. He took the matter into his own hands and dealt with Amasa in his usual way -- by the knife. [119/120]

1 Kings 2:28-33

As Joab had lived; so he died. We are told that what is of the flesh must end in corruption, so we should not be surprised to find that this man who had always been ready to take matters into his own carnal hands finally perished in a violent death. With the introduction of Solomon, the king of peace, and the prospect of the building of the temple, how could such a man of carnal strength remain the Commander-in-Chief? His murderous actions were doubtless intended for the good of his nation: now that nation's good demanded his own death. The flesh is of no avail. Its inevitable outcome is failure and death. Joab's story provides a striking illustration of this spiritual truth.

We look at the contrast presented by David, the man of the Spirit. There is a sense in which we can say that even though David may have been wrong in some matters, his spirit was right. Just the opposite is true of Joab, who was often right in his judgments and concern, but so wrong in his methods. If we reconsider the events already described we may find that David was not so wrong after all. When Abner first came to him it was for reconciliation, and is it not true that our Lord is the One whose work is that of reconciliation? So David displayed a Christlike spirit in wanting to reconcile the divided people and bring them together. His was the spiritual way, whereas Joab's method was by means of the knife. Again in the matter of Absalom, when he went astray and became a rebel, David's desire was that he should be spared. Is it not characteristic of the Lord that He desires to spare the rebel and to restore him to a right relationship and a place in the home? We must therefore agree that there was a mark of Christ about this longing of David after the wayward Absalom.

Perhaps David was wrong to have chosen Amasa and offer him the position of captain of the army, but who can tell? It is true that he was not a man of such courage and spirit as Joab, but it may well be that he could have been influenced by the king and learned something of his spirit even as he served. Joab was not prepared to wait for this -- the flesh can never wait -- nor was he prepared to accept a second place in the kingdom's armed forces. For him the knife was the only answer.

We may well argue that this is very far removed from our present world. Nobody ever dreams of taking a knife against another Christian in order to get his own way. We cannot try to put things right or to deal with wrongs by such violent methods. This is true, but it is equally true that we are all too prone to resort to carnal strength in trying to avoid perils or to right wrongs in church life. And if we refrain from the actual knife we have a sharp and deadly weapon in the shape of our tongue. The tongue can be like a razor-sharp arrow (Psalm 120:3-4). Joab's killings were drastic but they were mercifully quick, it was all over in a second. The unkind tongue, however, can produce agonies which go on for years, making wounds which persist. We may protest that our aims are good ones. So were Joab's. The question is not so much the objective as the method, and we must realise that we can never help the work or people of God by the arm of the flesh.

It seems fairly clear that in most of the cases, Joab was really expressing self-interest, though perhaps not aware of the fact. For him it was a question of the self-seeking of Abner and Amasa as well as that of Absalom which could not be tolerated. Well, we have to face such problems in our church, problems of self-seeking or of rebellion. We may speak or act violently, as Joab did, and that will only bring in death. Or we may follow that better way, the way of the Spirit of Christ.

David was a man of the spirit, a man who walked by the Spirit of God. For all his strength and good intentions, Joab was a man of the flesh, whose way had to end in death. The flesh always brings in death, that is why the Lord Jesus described it as being of no avail. God's kingdom and God's house are served by those who may not be faultless but who are ever learning to repudiate the flesh and be governed by the Spirit of Christ. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."


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[Inside back cover]


"(for the day of that sabbath was a high day)" (John 19:31)

IT is a feature of John's Gospel that he frequently combines a historical fact with a hidden spiritual implication. This Sabbath, as he reminds us, was a very special one. Phillip's rendering is: "for that was a particularly important Sabbath". This was true in the matter of the Jewish Calendar. Spiritually, though, it was much more than that, for it was surely the most significant Sabbath in the whole of human history. When He spoke of His impending death, the Lord Jesus invariably singled out "the third day" as the day of resurrection. The second day was not mentioned and is seldom considered by us, yet this was the 'high day' which the Spirit urged John to record in his parenthetical remark. It merits some special attention from all readers of the Gospel.

The outstanding feature of the Sabbath was that it was the day when man was required to "cease from his own works" (Hebrews 4:10). The Lord Jesus, however, made no apology for performing His miracles of mercy on that day, and seems perhaps deliberately to have chosen it for the occasion of some of His greatest works of healing. This was doubtless because He wished to emphasise that these were the acts of God. The powers which He displayed were not the works of Man only, but were the works of God. In this way the real implication of the Sabbath was beautifully expressed; the mighty power of God operated on a basis of pure grace.

When we come to this 'high Sabbath', we are tremendously impressed with the way in which it almost seemed that time stood still. The second day was a day of supernatural silence. Whatever may have been happening in those unseen realms where the Lord Jesus had so positively promised to welcome the penitent thief into God's Paradise, in the realm of things visible there was a complete absence of activity. The tomb was sealed; the guard mounted their watch; the sacred Body lay at rest in that cave where death had never before entered. The sorrowing friends of Jesus waited in sad inactivity for the third day to dawn.

They themselves were helpless. The apostles were stunned in dark despair. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus had done their best to accord some honour to that revered Body, but they could do no more and were left with their bitter-sweet reflections. The women were eager enough to pay their tribute to the remains of their beloved Lord, but the law did not permit them to proceed any further until that day of silence was over. The first day had been a day of tragedy. The third day was to prove a day of glory. The second day, though, was seemingly a non-day. Yet it was, as John tells us, one of very great importance.

What shall we say of the Lord Jesus? What was His attitude towards that second day? For this we must consult the prophetical psalms. They show that His attitude was a positive one -- faith is always positive -- and yet it is declared to be one of waiting. "My flesh also shall dwell in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades, neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption" (Acts 2:26-27). He did not try to rise. He made no effort at all. He waited for that new day, the famous 'third day', when the glory of the Father would raise Him from the dead (Romans 6:4).

This, then, is the meaning of the second day. So far as men are concerned it is the experience of 'hands off', to leave the way clear for the mighty hand of God to show its power. In the verse of Romans 6 which has been quoted we notice that we too are called to walk in this same 'newness of life', and to do it on the basis demonstrated in Christ's resurrection. For us it is not a matter of a day of twenty-four hours, nor of any interval of time as such. The simple principle is one of cessation from all human effort and endeavour in order to give God His opportunity to work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. When man struggles, God holds His hand. When man waits on God and waits for God, the mighty miracle of resurrection is bound to follow.


[Back cover]

Psalm 46:11

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